Lee Selby (left) jabs at Ryan Walsh during their British and Commonwealth featherweight championship bout at O2 Arena on Oct. 5, 2013 in London, England.
When Lee Selby steps into the ring in his hometown Cardiff against respected veteran Rendall Munroe on Saturday night he’ll be looking to add the European featherweight title to his collection of regional and national belts.
Having turned pro under the radar, Selby boxed on the small hall stage, quietly going about his business, winning Welsh and Celtic titles before being presented with the opportunity to fight much heralded Stephen Smith, who only narrowly missed a 2008 Olympic birth, for the British title.
Smith was as much as 100-1 favorite to win but Selby would upset many plans with a devastating one-punch knockout in the eighth round of their 2011 fight.
In his first defense, Selby met tough guy John Simpson, and after four nip and tuck rounds he threw a picture-perfect left hook to the solar plexus dropping Simpson to his knees, a position he was unable to continue from.
Since then the 26-year-old Welshman has added the Commonwealth and WBC International titles to his name whilst also winning the Lonsdale belt outright with a solid if not spectacular performance last time out against then unbeaten Ryan Walsh.
Selby (17-1, 6 knockouts) is the latest in a long line of successful Welsh featherweights and hopes to add his name to local folklore alongside the likes of Jim Driscoll, Howard Winstone and, more recently, Steve Robinson.
As well as the headline bout of Selby- Munroe, the show will also see 2012 Olympic gold medalist Anthony Joshua make his 2014 bow. Also on the card is an interesting all-Welsh contest for local bragging writes between Gavin Rees and Gary Buckland at lightweight, plus a sprinkling of local talent.
Anson Wainwright – What are your thoughts on Saturday’s fight and what Munroe brings to it?
Lee Selby – I think it’s a massive fight, a massive opportunity for me. I think Rendall Munroe is good fighter. His two recent loses have been against guys who will go on to win world titles and people he’s beat went on to win titles (Kiko Martinez, who Munroe twice outpointed, and Victor Terrazas, who Munroe stopped in nine rounds). So it’s going to be a good test.
AW – This fight will be for the European title, having come through the traditional way.
LS – I’ve done it the traditional way. I’ve won the Welsh title, Celtic, British, Commonwealth, WBC International and now if I can win the European all that’s left is the world title. I’ve come from the bottom on the small hall shops and now I’m topping a show at a big arena.
AW – Tell us about your camp for this fight?
LS – (It’s) probably (been) about 12 weeks. I’ve had a long time training. Usually I don’t have a camp, after a fight I’ll be back in the gym. I have three of four days off, maybe less and I’m back in the gym. I did that last year and for the last couple of fights. I started to feel a bit worn out, so I had a nice rest and I’ve had a 12-week training camp. I haven’t sparred as many rounds, I feel a lot fresher.
Sometimes I run on the beach, there’s a place in Barry (in Cardiff), Porthkerry, with hundreds of steps, I run up and down but closer to the fight I just run on the machines, you don’t get any injuries. I did a bit of sparring with Mitchell Buckland, a bit with my brother Andrew Selby, I sparred a couple of rounds with Craig Evans and Maxi Hughes, an up and coming lightweight.
AW – This will be your first fight in Wales for nearly two years; it must be good to fight at home?
LS – I’ve been enjoying it so far, selling all the tickets has kept my mind off the training because usually I live in the gym, killing myself in the gym, so it’s given me something else to do. It’s a big opportunity to build a fan base in Wales. By the looks of it the show’s going to sellout. Hopefully, I’ll win the title and then I’ll be back there to defend it.
AW – In your last fight you beat Ryan Walsh. Looking back on that fight what would you say of your performance?
LS – To be honest I underestimated him a bit because he hadn’t fought anyone. I didn’t expect him to be as good as he was. He was really big on the night. At the weigh in he was smaller than me, he was hungry. The British title might have been his world title because he might not go any further, so he gave it his all. It was a good tough fight.
AW – In beating Walsh you won the Lonsdale belt outright?
LS – Yes it was a big achievement, not many fighters do it. Once I’d won that I was looking to progress. I want to be a world champion.
AW – Let’s talk about your career from the beginning?
LS – I started from the bottom at the small hall shows. My managers brought me along well. He started me off with a couple of journeyman. Then I was going away and turning people over on their home turf, I lost a fight early on which didn’t go to plan. I lost the first round, I thought I won the last three but it was a hometown decision I thought. Since then I’ve gone from strength to strength. My boxing style is I can switch hit, I can box, I can fight, I can box on the back foot, I can do it all… I’m not brilliant at it all, but I can do what’s needed when it’s needed.
AW – How do you assess your development as a pro, you came through the ranks under the radar.
LS – To be honest I’ve always be a hard worker in the gym since turning pro. I’ve just kept plugging away at it. In the early fights my manager and trainer used to say get the rounds in don’t knock them out, it’s not about having knock outs on your record, just learn as you progress. Then when the opportunity came I think I only had one stoppage on my record and Stephen Smith took it as a voluntary defense. I let the shots go and knocked him out. I knocked everyone out in my title fights up until Martin Lindsay.
AW – As you touched on, you went to Liverpool and fought highly thought of Stephen Smith who was on “Team GB” (Britain’s amateur squad) and had appeared at the 2007 world amateur championship and only narrowly missed out on being at the Olympics. You were a rank outsider and shocked many people beating him in his hometown.
LS – That was my plan to get my wins up with no knockouts, learn my trade and when the opportunity came let my shots go and get him out of there.
I was surprised they took me because he was on the team with my brother and they know how talented he is and you don’t get one brother who’s excellent and the other no good – they’re usually decent fighters if the one’s good.
I was a massive underdog. It gave me more incentive to prove them wrong. It’s a two-horse race. One 100-1 and the other a massive favourite, anyone can win, it only takes one punch. That gave me a bit of a boost to be such an underdog. I think I was 80-1 to pick the round, a few of my friends did all right and my uncle won £22,000 picking the right round.
AW – Some people might not be aware but you’ve previously travelled to Las Vegas and based yourself at Floyd Mayweather’s gym. That must have been a great experience?
LS – It’s an excellent experience. I was sparring with some of their amateur boys in the gym. When I sparred, the whole gym stopped and surrounded the ring and watched. It was really hostile; it kept me in good stead for when I boxed Martin Lindsay. I boxed in the May (2012) against Patrick Okine and I didn’t end up boxing Lindsay until (the following) February. I think we went out twice. We had some good spars and it kept me active.
AW – Do you plan on going back?
LS – We’re hoping to, as soon as I win this fight then we’ll look at it.
AW – Your younger brother Andrew is a top amateur, the number one at flyweight in the world who’s fought at the Olympics and world championships and medaled. What would you say of the relationship the two of you share?
LS – When either of us is doing well it lifts the other one. There was a bit of competitiveness when we were younger, we’d be sparring in the house trying to beat each other up but now we try to help each other and when I fight he comes in the ring with me and carries my belts. When he fights I like to travel and watch him fight. We show each other support and help each other out sparring.
AW – Your goal is clearly to win a world title. When you assess the featherweight division and the key players what are your thoughts?
LS – It’s a hot division. Some big names out there, if there’s big names there’s big money to be made, you get in fights with them. I see Jhonny Gonzalez, he’s getting on, he’s got a string of losses but he’s dangerous and can bang but he’s beatable. (Vasly) Lomachenko’s is looking to have a world title fight in his second fight; he’s probably the most talented out of the lot of them. My brother fought him (Lomachenko) a few years back; he got beat when they were kids. Abner Mares got knocked out, he’s a top quality fighter but he’s small, he’s 5-foot-5. I’m a massive featherweight. Evgeny Gradovich, I think he’s beatable as well.
AW – And to the top guys what would your message be?
LS – I’m on my way up… someone give me an opportunity and I’m gonna knock ‘em out!
Photo / Scott Heavey-Getty Images